Fresh Eyes: Drive (2011)
Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive is a film which I have only ever heard talked about using superlatives. I've heard it called "one of the best movies ever made" and "Gosling's best performance" and "the most overrated film I've ever seen," but the one thing I'd never heard about the film was genuine, measured thoughts. Even amongst my fellow film buffs, Drive was only spoken of in the most extreme manner. This puzzled me, as I have only ever heard one other movie talked about in this way by anyone, and that's Fight Club. So, sitting down to watch Drive, I had no idea what to expect, a feeling only compounded by my love for The Neon Demon, which achieves peak crazy within minutes and only escalates from there (as I discussed in my Top 10 article for TFS a few months back). I went in expecting anything and prepared for nothing.
Drive is a shockingly measured and understated experience. The film follows an unnamed getaway driver, played by Ryan Gosling, as he finds himself tangled up in a mob-related robbery, trying to protect Irene, the woman he loves (Carey Mulligan) from the criminals hunting him down. Most of this plot is contained within the last half of the film, while the first half is devoted mostly to character work, crafting a believable relationship between Irene and The Driver, and establishing the criminal elements cranking away in the background of the film.
Gosling is operating at the top of his game in this. His performance is such a different entity from anything I've seen from him before. Not to mention, this is a breath of fresh air after seeing Funny Gosling twice this year in The Nice Guys and La La Land. His performance is almost entirely physical, with the script being sparse and almost minimalistic in places. Gosling does something here that I never thought possible; he was successfully intimidating. He looms over aspects of Drive, and when The Driver needs to get down to business, it is totally believable.
This is a video game reference, but Driver reminds me of the player character in Hotline Miami, calmly and disinterestedly executing his crimes and violence because he has too, not because he enjoys it.
The ensemble cast of this film is nothing short of amazing. I will forever be amazed by Refn's ability to bring in such talent for the bit roles they occupy. Ron Perlman chews all of the scenery that is unfortunate enough to be anywhere near him, and is immensely entertaining to watch. Bryan Cranston does a great job as Shannon, Driver's mentor and partner. He doesn't really do much other than business things, but he's still doing great work. Christina Hendricks is great for the five minutes she's in there, but I wish I didn't have to watch her get her head blown off, no matter how well done the effects were.
Drive also has a permeable sense of style and flow to it, as all of Refn's film do. However, where The Neon Demon is slow-paced and ponderous, Drive constantly pushes onward, somehow making very slow paced scenes feel like they are flying by. It's an interesting dichotomy, one that actually made the film feel, to me anyways, like a scenic drive through a gorgeous landscape; while you are there, experiencing everything, it stretches out and looks incredible, but when it's over, you are surprised at how the experience flew by.
Drive is one of the rare films I watched twice in two days, an honor only shared by Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Everything about this film oozes style and authorial intent; not a single prop, line, or frame is out of place in this film, and that is an incredible feat. While I still think I prefer The Neon Demon to Drive, I cannot deny that Drive is a much tighter film. Drive may well be the most modern film I will look at for Fresh Eyes, but I can definitely say that it deserves to be called a modern classic, and I hope this ends up in film classrooms at some point in the future.